How bad (or good) are American Airline’s AAdvantage miles?

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In yesterday’s post about the changing fortunes of points and miles, I wrote this about American Airline’s AAdvantage miles:

AA only gets an upward arrow because they were subjectively in the toilet not long ago.  AA saver award space had completely dried up in almost all markets.  Recently, though, there have been confirmed sightings of useful AA saver awards.  It’s easy to get an up arrow when you start from the bottom.

This topic generated passionate reader responses at both ends of the spectrum.  Some argued that AAdvantage miles are the best, and others argued that they are the worst.  The best part is that the arguments included information about the program that could be helpful for those trying to decide whether to acquire AA miles or to those looking for best uses of those miles.  Below I’ve summarized the top points from each side of the debate and sprinkled in a few of my own thoughts on both sides…

AAdvantage miles are great

Here are some of the reasons that AA miles really are terrific…

Reduced Mileage Awards

Those with AA credit cards are eligible for reduced award prices for flights to or from select cities within the US and Canada.  With most AA cards, flights under 500 miles are eligible for a 5,000 mile award discount (2,500 one-way), and those over 500 miles are eligible for a 7,500 mile award discount (3,750 one-way).  Some of the no-fee AA cards limit cardholders to lower discounts.  Full details of this program can be found here.

It is worth checking the Reduced Mileage Awards page before booking an award to see if either your origin or destination city is on the list.  If so, book your award by calling reservations, and make sure to state that you want to book a reduced mileage award.

10% Rebate on AAdvantage awards

Simply by being a cardholder of any of several cards, you’ll automatically earn a 10% rebate on all AA awards that you book, up to 10,000 AA miles per year (that is, for your first 100,000 AAdvantage miles spent each year, you’ll get back 10,000 miles).  Qualifying cards include:

And before you ask… no, you won’t get more miles back by having multiple AA cards.  AA makes sure that the 10K limit is enforced at your frequent flyer account level rather than per card.

Free Award Changes

This is a really special feature of the AAdvantage program when compared to the United or Delta.  After booking an award, you can make many changes to the award for free, including:

  • Dates and times
  • Routing
  • Airlines
  • YMMV: Upgrading class of service.  One Mile at a Time says that AA generally doesn’t charge for upgrading awards (e.g. from economy to business, or business to first class).

But the following changes do incur a fee ($150 for first passenger, and $25 for each additional passenger):

  • Change origin or destination
  • Change award type (e.g. change from first class to business class, or from an AAnytime award to a Mile SAAver award)
  • Cancel award and redeposit miles

Great partner awards are possible

Even when American Airlines doesn’t offer many saver level awards on their own flights, many of their partners still do.  And, in some cases, American Airlines offers very good award prices.  One good example is that they charge only 75,000 miles for one-way business class from the US to Africa.  And their partner Qatar Airways not only often has great award availability, but they are also known to offer top notch business class seats and service.  Note: to find Qatar award availability, use BA.com to search, then call AA to book your award.

AAdvantage miles are the worst

And, here are some reasons that AAdvantage miles are the worst…

Limited SAAver award space

Years ago, American Airlines used to be one of the most generous airlines with respect to offering saver level awards (e.g. 25K round-trip economy), but in the past few years they have arguably become the worst.

That said, in the past month or so, AA really does appear to have increased their award availability so it is worth checking again.  For example, to pick a random time period and city pair, I found nearly every day available for business class awards in January 2018 from New York to Los Angeles (but most of these involve connections):

Fuel Surcharges on partner awards

While AA doesn’t charge fuel surcharges on awards booked on their own flights, they do pass along fuel surcharges imposed by partners.  As a comparison, United never passes along fuel surcharges, but Delta often does (depending upon how they feel about certain partners at any given moment).

With AA, passing along fuel surcharges is particularly problematic since their biggest transatlantic partner is British Airways, and British Airways really loves to stick it to you.

For example, here’s an AA round-trip business class award on British Airways (Chicago to London):

Your Trip Price:

115,000 miles

+$1,327.36 USD

But if you can find award space on AA’s own aircraft, you’ll pay the same number of miles but far fewer dollars:

Your Trip Price:

115,000 miles

+$355.16 USD

British Airways charges nearly $1,000 in surcharges, And AA happily passes along those fees.

Bottom Line

Even when AA offers no award space at all, AAdvantage miles are far from worthless thanks to the ability to book awards on partner flights.  That said, British Airways’ unforgivably high surcharges tend to cloud one’s view of the usefulness of AA miles on partner flights.  The key is to look for flights on other partners, especially those that can’t be booked online via AA.com.

And, I’m coming around to kind-of liking AA miles again.  For flights on AA, award space definitely has opened up on many flights.  And if you have any of a number of AA credit cards, you can save miles through the 10% rebate (which works on partner flights too) and/or Reduced Mileage Awards (which are for AA flights only).

I wouldn’t go so far as to say that AAdvantage miles are the best.  I don’t think they’re anywhere close to that, but they are definitely useful under the right circumstances.

Which miles are the best?  What do you think?  Please comment below.

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